Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Police: 7 teens shot near Detroit school

Gunmen in a green minivan opened fire on a group of teenagers waiting at a bus stop near a Detroit school on Tuesday, wounding seven including three who were in critical condition, authorities said.

Five of the teens had just left Cody Ninth Grade Academy, where they were taking summer classes, when they were shot at the nearby bus stop.

The gunmen exited a vehicle and "asked for a person by name" before they "opened fire at the crowd," said Detroit Public Schools Police Chief Roderick Grimes. Detroit Police were looking for two suspects in a green minivan, said spokesman Rod Liggons.

The teenagers, four boys and three girls, range in age from 14 to 17 years old, Liggons said. Three of the teens were in critical condition, he said.

Another summer school student, 15-year-old Bria Wilson, said she was standing at the bus stop when she heard the gunfire. She said she was facing away from the shooters and ran away after the shots were fired. But she saw a 16-year-old male friend lying on the ground, bleeding.

"They were so close — it almost hit me," she said.

Schools spokesman Steve Wasko said there was "nothing that we're aware of at this time" linking the shootings with any fight or dispute at the school.

He said the shootings happened about 2:15 p.m., about 15 minutes after summer school students were dismissed for the day.

Imam Abdullah El-Amin, who co-owns the Numan Funeral Home near the intersection where the shooting took place, said drug-dealing, prostitution and "hopelessness" are common in the area, he said.

"It's terrible that these things are just laying there, festering, in society — time bombs waiting to happen," said El-Amin, a Muslim minister and candidate for Detroit City Council.

Which Sports Death Would Affect Us Like MJ's?

I was as surprised by the reaction to Michael Jackson's death as I was the death itself, though I shouldn't have been. Is there anyone in sports whose death we'd react to in a similar way?

I don't mean that in a glib way. (Mostly.) The strangely moving aspect of Michael Jackson's death was how we so quickly dismissed the freakshow he'd become over the last 20 years and focused almost solely on the music, and just how fucking great it really was. His death shouldn't have shocked us as much as it did; clearly, something was wrong with that guy. But it did what death is supposed to do: It gave us the needed perspective to hark back and reevaluate the artist, understand what it was we'd truly lost, give us something to all share as one. If you would have told me two weeks ago that Michael Jackson's death would turn into a week of shared grief, I would have thought you were crazy. That weirdo? Come on. And now that it has happened, in retrospect, it seems obvious we'd react this way. We'll actually all remember where we were when Michael Jackson died. Never would have thought that.

And it got me to thinking: What sports deaths would cause us to have that reaction? Who in sports could die right now and jolt people in that way? Who would shake us like that? Whose death would cause such an unconscious re-evaluation?

So, this week's Ten Humans is a thought experiment. It's my list of the 10 people in sports who, if they were to die tomorrow, would inspire similar recalculations in the public consciousness. Whose death would affect us the most? It's a little morbid, I grant you. But I think it's instructive.

A few parameters to let you know where I'm coming from:

1. Age Matters. If, say, Willie Mays died tomorrow, it would be tragic and awful, and it would cause countless reminisces from Baby Boomers — I'm pretty sure there'd be a Bob Costas-Billy Crystal special within the hour — but I'm not sure it would be shocking. That is to say: Willie Mays is 78 years old. The same goes for Vin Scully, or Bob Pettit. Epic figures. Great men. But old. Their death loses points because of their own longevity. Sorry.

2. Culture Importance. Stan Musial was a better baseball player than Pete Rose, but he hasn't contributed nearly as much to the national conversation as Charlie Hustle. We account for that.

3. Historical Recalculation. When Michael Jackson died, we really did dismiss the weirdness — and, perhaps, evil — and remembered what truly made him great. We even felt a little bad for forgetting about that in the first place. That's a factor too: Roger Maris' death grew in significance because we had pegged so wrong in the first place. Our own guilt, revisited upon death, adds to the equation. It's the Man, now that we look at it, we were harsh to that guy principle.

4. Shock Value. Obviously, we remember Len Bias' death more because he was 22 when he died. In the same way you are inherently sadder when a relative dies suddenly than you are when they've spent 15 years slowly wasting away in a funeral home. It's not fair — after all, dead is dead, and it sucks to die no matter how old you are — but them's the breaks.

5. Specific Vivid Memories. The true joy from the Tyson movie — the only real joy, if you ask me — is watching the montage of knockouts, those massive bursts of violence that made him Mike Freaking Tyson. Anyone who watched sports back then remembers just how amazing it was to watch Tyson, and can share those memories, in the same way you could share memories of the Michael Jackson Trapper Keeper you had in the third grade.

Anyway, those are the parameters I'm working from here. What deaths would effect sports fans in a Michael Jackson way today? Here are my nominees. Let's hear yours too.

Muhammad Ali. Kind of a no-brainer, and even though he's old — only 67, actually — and feeble, the public outpouring of affection for him would be enough to stop most normal conversation for a day or so. ESPN's upcoming "30 for 30" documentary series — which you'll be hearing a ton about over the next couple of months — features one film on Ali's fight with Larry Holmes, back when Ali had a mustache and got himself pummeled. It's going to inspire a whole other round of Ali worship ... not that he'll need it. Ali was dominant, important and charismatic, and his late-in-life deification has allowed most people to forget how truly (and unfairly) despised he was at one point by the national media that now reveres him. I think Jeremy Schapp will be on television for 30 consecutive hours when Ali dies.

Charles Barkley.
It's insane what Barkley gets away with, even today. Let's not forget: Not only did he get charged with a DUI a few months ago, he told cops it was because "I was gonna drive around the corner and get a blow job." He took a month off, and by the time he had returned, everyone had forgotten about it. Barkley is charming, funny and hilariously blunt, and all this obscures that there seem to be some legitimate demons bubbling underneath there somewhere. (The guy threw a man through a plate-glass window.) Generally speaking, we've all had this quiet grand vision for Barkley; he's too smart and fascinating not to run for public office, or cross over to the mainstream non-sports culture in some dramatic way. But he's not living the most healthy life either. If Barkley died, there would be a palpable sense of loss, and what might have been. Plus, you could just run clips of him talking for about three full days.

Steve Bartman. The glory of Bartman is that he shut up. The guy could have had a reality show by this point, or become some sort of unofficial Cubs spokesman in the wake of the 2003 NLCS. But he didn't. He released one statement about his broken Cubs fan heart, and then was never heard from again. Still, we've all kind of assumed that at some point, he'd return, perhaps right before the Cubs made it to the World Series again, and all would be forgiven. Cubs fans would realize how awful they were to him — and they were quite awful — and the guy could reach full absolution by throwing out the first pitch. I bet he'd get a standing ovation, and we'd recognize the depth of our sins. But what if that didn't happen? What if he were hit by a bus this week? We'd never have closure on the Bartman story, never have a full conclusion to a story that we cruelly invented for him. Bartman would end as a ghost, just two minutes in the public eye, vanishing forever, leaving us alone, dealing with what we had wrought.

Larry Bird. Oh, heavens, to imagine the rending of garments and gnashing of teeth from the aging white sportswriter set! Bird was heaven-sent for the casual sports fan: Talented, hard-working, scrappy and, yes, white: He became the example of Doing It The Right Way even while hundreds of others were also, lo, doing it the right way. Bird's death would bring forth all the stories about how There Can Never Be Another Bird, even though there are Birds everywhere, particularly people fortunate enough not to have grown up in French Lick. Bird dying would be an elegy for a time period that never actually existed. And Lord, in New England no one would stop drinking for a month.

Magic Johnson. Along those lines, Magic's death would hark us back to that day in 1991, when two different worlds collided in a way nobody quite understood. In a way, Magic should die of a heart attack, or a kitchen accident: Something that has nothing to do with this HIV at all. (Considering it has been 18 years since he was diagnosed, this seems somewhat likely.) Magic has gone through so many incarnations that his death might, in a fashion similar to Michael Jackson, remind us of his true genius as a basketball player, rather than the embarrassing spectacles of his television work. We'd all find ourselves lucky to have had the extra time, even if he didn't always use it wisely.

Michael Jordan. Man, lots of basketball players here. Still, the other MJ has to be included. He's probably the closest we have in sports to a Michael Jackson, actually, someone who came around and dominated at the exact perfect social time to have everyone on the planet watching his every move. Jordan had our complete attention in a way no athlete has had since, and surely, the first week of retrospectives would be just like Jackson's, with everyone talking about where they were when he hit the Ehlo shot, or won his first title, or retired (the first time), or beat Byron Russell. We don't have many true traveling roadshows anymore, the circus coming and taking over, and Jordan and those Bulls teams might have been the last glimpse of it. Jordan's just young enough to that we'd all wonder what his next step would be; it still seems unbecoming that the great Jordan's final act could be as absentee president of the freaking Bobcats. There has to be a third act, right?

Pete Rose. For years, people have said the only way Rose is going to make the Hall of Fame is if he's willing to wait until after he dies. Well, we'll find out! I happen to be of the belief that Rose's sins were far worse and for damnable, in baseball terms, than using steroids or HGH or whatever, but with every year that passes, it's more obvious that my view is in the minority. Rose — a guy who becomes more profoundly unlikable the more you learn about him — could benefit from the whitewashing death provides a reputation, and he'd be seen as the sad exile rather than the monstrous pit of self-indulgence he ultimately became, and probably always was. A baseball player was once anonymously quoted as saying, "the only way you'd like Pete Rose was when he wasn't in the room." Death is the ultimate exit from the room. Rose's sins are the sort that we can't forgive while he's alive ... but are easy to let go once he's dead.

O.J. Simpson. There will be no re-evaluation on O.J.'s death: He'll go down in history as a brutal double-murderer, as a relic of a decade in which we, as a country, made a compulsion out of meticulously obsessing over events that didn't actually matter. (Simpson trial, Monica Lewinsky, Y2K.) In fact, it won't be as an athlete that we'll ever really think of O.J. Unlike Michael Jackson, it seems unlikely there will be a revisiting of Simpson's athletic career. As accomplished as his gridiron life was, there were no signature champion moments that could be replayed to offset the wretchedness of what would come later. O.J. was the beginning of empty, gawking culture, a culture we all revel in. Now we use it as distraction. Back then, the rest of the world, the part that didn't involve the O.J. trial, was the distraction. Simpson will be a symbol of a time in American history in which we were all very, very stupid. It seems fitting.

Mike Tyson. Even more so than Magic, the secret surprise about Tyson is that he didn't actually die before now. Tyson has comfortably settled into pseudo tragic hero / comedic punchline now, which is odd, because it wasn't that long ago that he seemed the very nexis of our entire sporting culture, the dividing line between Real Sports Fan and Gawking Sideshow Rubber Necker. Tyson's death would be perhaps the most similar to Jackson's; we watch the old videos of him and be reminded how dominant, how violent, how holyshit he really was at one point. His highs didn't last long, and they were over by the time most of us graduate from college, but at its best, there was nothing like it. It would be worth it to watch that over and over, and I suspect, ultimately, we'd forget the Robin Givens and the Mitch Green and the eating of children.

Vince Young. Ideally speaking — at least for this column's conceit — Young would have died three years ago, when he was at the peak of his powers, the amazing Texas quarterback who pulled off one the greatest single-game performances most of us have ever seen. He could have been our Len Bias then, the one who got away. Instead, he went pro, and that's when all the great college stories explode. But with Young, there's the sense of a mental issue, something in his brain standing in the way, an inner torment that perhaps even he does not understand. Young would be the ultimate little-boy-lost, a superhuman talent who reached the top and then collapsed before any of us, particularly him, noticed what was going on. Any list like this needs a true athletic tragedy. Young's is already happening. Hopefully he can turn it around ... but, as the song goes, enjoy yourself, it's later than you think.

Other nominees: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Wayne Gretzky, Pele, LeBron James, Mark McGwire, Terrell Owens, Cal Ripken, Derrick Rose, Bud Selig, Bill Simmons, David Stern, Michael Vick, Tiger Woods.

13-Year-Old Commits To Lane Kiffin, Kind Of

he 13-year-old boy has enough to worry about. Committing to a college is not usually one of those preoccupations, unless you're really, really good — or the brother of an All-American who plays for Lane Kiffin. Or both!

Evan Berry, the brother of Eric Berry, announced that he has committed to Tennessee, even though Kiffin technically hasn't offered him a scholarship because that would be a violation. Berry is the first member of the Volunteers' Class of 2013 — that's high school, not college — and he's presumably looking forward to breaking in with the varsity this fall. Again, high school.

Somehow, though, he's already talking to the press:

"It's the only college I know right now and it seems the best for me," Berry told Rivals. "My dad went there and my brother is there now. I know I can do the same things there. I have a real friendly relationship with the coaches there. I don't know them too well, but I know I will have plenty of time to get to know them."

So he doesn't know any other colleges, he doesn't know the Tennessee coaches too well and he hasn't played a snap in high school. Also, his father admits that "things happen, and four years is a long ways away." Coupled with the fact that Kiffin's staff is forbidden from offering him a scholarship — those damn "rules" get in the way of everything — this commitment seems about as real as Kiffin's chances of being in Knoxville in 2017, when Berry would be a senior in Neyland Stadium.

Meanwhile, the Berrys just "have to take it one day at a time." Start the countdown to Mini-camp 2013.

Former NFL star Vick changes job to work with kids

Suspended NFL Star Michael Vick is leaving a job with a Virginia construction company to work with youngsters at Boys & Girls Clubs.

Steven Kast, CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Virginia Peninsula, says Vick will be working with children on health and fitness activities at several clubs in the Hampton Roads area. Vick was a regular at the Boys & Girls Club in Newport News as a youngster.

Vick needed a job to meet the conditions of his probation and had been working as a $10-an-hour laborer.

Vick, whose lawyers were in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Norfolk on Tuesday, is in house arrest for the last two months of a nearly two-year sentence for operating a dogfighting ring.

His lawyers say a new bankruptcy plan gives creditors more of his future earnings.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — Suspended NFL Star Michael Vick would give up more of his future income under a revised bankruptcy plan.

Vick's lawyer, Paul Campsen, disclosed the basic outline of the new plan Tuesday in U.S. Bankrupcy Court in Norfolk.

The full plan is still being finished. It's due to be filed by Thursday.

A judge in April rejected the first plan, saying it was not feasible.

Under the new plan, Campsen said 10 percent of the first $750,000 Vick earns would go to creditors. Under the old plan, Vick would have kept the entire amount up to $750,000.

The new plan also increases the amount it would pay creditors on income over $750,000.

Vick is currently in home confinement in Virginia for last two months of a nearly two-year sentence for operating a dogfighting ring.

Pistons part company with Curry

Detroit have fired coach Michael Curry after they suffered a losing record and an NBA play-offs first-round sweep in his first season in charge.

The Pistons went 39-43 and then endured four one-sided losses to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the post-season.

Joe Dumars, the team's president for basketball operations, said: This was a difficult decision to make

"I want to thank Michael for his hard work and dedication. However, at this time, I have decided to make a change."

The Pistons began last season with big hopes but failed to recover from the loss of All-Star point guard Chauncey Billups, who joined Denver in November.

Dumars fired coach Flip Saunders last year after he led the team to the Eastern Conference finals in each of his three seasons.

Curry, 40, was an assistant under Saunders for one season.

A former president of the NBA Players Association, he played for the Pistons from 1995-1997 and 1999-2003.

Job losses hit June consumer confidence

Mounting job losses and other economic realities caught up with Americans in June, pushing down a key barometer of consumer sentiment after a streak of gains built on glimmers of hope.

Some economists say the reality check offered by Tuesday's report from the New York-based Conference Board may not augur well for spending in the critical months ahead.

The Conference Board said its Consumer Confidence Index now stands at 49.3, down from its revised May level of 54.8.

The drop coincided with mixed messages in the housing market. A report from the Treasury Department showing foreclosures jumped in the first quarter compared with 2008's fourth quarter. But a key housing price index showed price declines moderating.

Job security — a key factor in shoppers' willingness and ability to spend — continued to plague consumers surveyed by the Conference Board. And the Labor Department, which reports June's job data Thursday, is expected to show unemployment climbed.

"Consumers are making a more somber and accurate assessment of the economy and their own financial position," said Mark Vitner, senior economist at Wachovia. "Consumers may be thinking less bad is not good enough."

Because consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of economic activity in the United States, economists and investors watch it closely. The Dow Jones industrials fell 84.1 points, or 0.99 percent, to end Tuesday at 8,448.06 and reverse a small gain in the morning before the Conference Board report came out.

Both components of the consumer confidence gauge fell this month. The Present Situation Index of how shoppers feel now about the economy declined to 24.8 from 29.7 in May. And the board's Expectations Index, shoppers' outlook for the next six months, dropped to 65.5 from 71.5.

Lynn Franco, director of The Conference Board Consumer Research Center, said in a statement that the decline in consumers' view of the current economy implies "that economic conditions, while not as weak as earlier this year, are nonetheless weak."

Consumer sentiment has risen markedly from its new historic low of 25.3 in February. But confidence is still well below what's considered healthy. A reading above 90 means the economy is on solid footing. Above 100 signals strong growth.

Economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters had projected confidence would hold steady at 55 this month after surges in April and May helped by a stock market rally that has now shown signs of fizzling.

In May, the figure zoomed 14 points past economists' expectations to its highest level since September, when it was 61.4. Economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters had expected a reading of 42.3 last month.

The rise this spring didn't translate into relief for merchants, however, and stores are aggressively discounting summer inventory to keep it moving, though sales declines have moderated in recent months.

Brian Bethune, chief economist at IHS Global Insight, said he expects the confidence gauge to hover between 50 and 60 this year. He anticipates a moderate recovery in consumer spending this year but no significant rebound until 2010.

"The fundamentals of consumer spending are very weak," he said.

Rising foreclosures could derail a turnaround. The Treasury report said the number of homeowners at least two months behind or in foreclosure jumped in the first quarter from the previous quarter.

The report dampened any glimmer of hope coming out of the Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller index, which showed yearly losses in 13 metro areas improved in April compared with March. And the 18.1 percent tumble in the index of 20 major cities in April compared with the year before marked the third straight month with a decline that was not a record.

Still, the 20-city index is off almost 33 percent from its peak in the second quarter of 2006, which means home values are now around 2003 levels.

Of the households responding by June 23 to a Conference Board mail survey sent to 5,000 households after June 1, 44.8 percent said jobs are "hard to get," up from 43.9 percent in May. Those saying jobs are "plentiful" decreased to 4.5 percent from 5.8 percent.

Respondents who anticipate more jobs in the months ahead decreased to 17.4 percent from 19.3 percent, while those anticipating fewer jobs increased to 27.3 percent from 25.6 percent.

The Labor Department is expected to report Thursday that the unemployment rate has risen to 9.6 percent from 9.4 percent in May. And economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters project that employers will shed 363,000 jobs, up from 345,000 in May.

Amid these economic woes, consumers are saving more. Instead of splurging at the mall, households used most of their federal stimulus payments to boost savings to the highest rate in more than 15 years in May, a government report last week showed.

Analysis: US role in Iraq doesn't end just yet

U.S. troops are out of Iraq's cities but not its future.

Even a best-case scenario is likely to feature an American role there for years — militarily as well as diplomatically.

That does not mean a permanent large U.S. troop presence in Iraq. Under a security deal struck with the Bush administration, American forces are to be out by the end of 2011.

But it's no secret that Iraq's security forces are not fully ready to handle even a diminished insurgency on their own.

Some senior U.S. military officers say privately they anticipate Iraqi setbacks in coming months, particularly if the insurgents regroup. But by partnering with American forces, the Iraqis stand a good chance of succeeding. That is why a number of U.S. troops will remain in the cities to assist and advise.

But most were gone Tuesday as Iraqis marked National Sovereignty Day with military parades and marching bands in Baghdad. In a sobering reminder the violence was not over, a car bombing in a crowded food market in the northern city of Kirkuk killed at least 27 people.

It's not possible to know how long Iraq will need American help, but it could be well beyond President Barack Obama's current term. Much will depend on the pace of progress toward Iraqi political reconciliation. That is because the success of the Iraqi security forces depends as much, if not more, on their willingness to operate in a nonsectarian, evenhanded way as on their technical competence.

Diplomatically, the U.S. role will be less visible but still crucial. Even with declining levels of violence since 2007, progress toward political reconciliation among Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds has been minimal.

Obama made clear Tuesday that while he expects violence to persist, the final outcome is an Iraqi responsibility.

"Iraq's future is in the hands of its own people," he said at the White House. "And Iraq's leaders must now make some hard choices necessary to resolve key political questions" and to provide security.

There are still about 131,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. They won't be fighting in urban areas any more, unless the Iraqi government asks for their help. Instead they will focus on securing Iraq's borders, keeping insurgents on the run in rural areas and conducting training with Iraqi security forces.

Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said Tuesday he was hopeful, in part because Iraqis have embraced the U.S. urban withdrawal as a confidence booster.

"They're not ready for us to go yet, but they are ready for us to allow them to attempt to exercise their security responsibilities, and to me that's very encouraging," Odierno said.

Even in the most optimistic of circumstances in which Iraq muddles through its political and ethnic problems — and keeps chipping away at the insurgency — it will still need U.S. support. And the Obama administration has said it wants to build a long-term relationship with a key Arab state in a volatile region.

But if today's relative peace in Iraq unravels within the coming year, Obama will face tough choices, including whether to push back his announced timeline for ending the U.S. combat role in the country by September 2010.

Obama could not reinsert U.S. combat forces in Iraqi cities without Iraqi government permission, under terms of the security deal negotiated by the Bush administration last year. And he could not change the 2011 deadline for removing all U.S. troops from Iraq without renegotiating that deal.

Nor might he want to, even with the prospect of Iraq spinning into a new cycle of sectarian warfare. Obama came into office promising to end U.S. involvement in the war, arguing that Iraq's remaining problems are primarily of a political nature and cannot be solved by continued U.S. military force.

And more recently, Obama announced that his administration was refocusing on what he considers a bigger problem — increasing instability in Afghanistan and a growing insurgency in neighboring Pakistan. In that context, U.S. troop reductions in Iraq are a one-way ticket; once out, they are unlikely to return.

Qubad Talabani, son of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and the Washington representative of the semiautonomous Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq, believes that if security deteriorates in coming months and hot-button political issues are not settled, the 2011 deadline should be renegotiated.

"Regardless of whether things go well or things deteriorate, there is going to be a strong connection between the United States and Iraq," Talabani said in an interview Tuesday. "The nature of that relationship will depend on whether things improve or deteriorate. The U.S. has invested too much in this effort just to walk away."

What would Obama do if Iraq reverted to major violence?

Stephen Biddle, an Iraq watcher at the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote in a recent analysis that a full-scale civil war could mean a civilian death toll in the range of 600,000 to more than two million.

"Given its role in precipitating the war in Iraq, the United States would bear special responsibility for such a catastrophe," Biddle wrote. He added that if the conflict spread beyond Iraq's borders it would risk a disruption of world oil markets and might derail prospects for successful Israel-Palestinian peace talks.

Jackson Will From 2002 In Spotlight

A will drafted by Michael Jackson in 2002 which divides the singer's estate among his mother, three children and one or more charities could play a central role in determining how his tangled financial relationships will be unwound.

Several people close to the late Mr. Jackson said that a lawyer for the pop singer could submit the will, believed to be his last, to Los Angeles Superior Court as soon as Thursday. That filing would cap a tense period in which relatives and advisers of the late singer debated what document, if any, was valid.

One or two other earlier wills have emerged since Mr. Jackson's death last Thursday, according to people familiar with the situation. The Associated Press reported that Mr. Jackson's parents, Joseph and Katherine Jackson, said in a Monday court filing that they believed the singer had died without a valid will. Joseph Jackson isn't believed to be included in the most recent will.

In an email message, L. Londell McMillan, a lawyer who said he represents Mr. Jackson's parents, said neither he nor his clients had seen the 2002 will. Mr. McMillan also once represented Michael Jackson.

Mr. McMillan said that he had spent much of Monday trying to ensure that Mr. Jackson's mother would receive custody of the singer's three children. A Los Angeles court on Monday granted her temporary custody pending a hearing in July. Mr. McMillan said the family is "pleased" with that decision. The 2002 will calls for the children to be placed in the custody of Mrs. Jackson.
[Michael Jackson] AFP/Getty Images

Michael Jackson

This will names as executors lawyer John Branca and a veteran music executive named John McClain who was also a friend of Mr. Jackson. Mr. Branca, who served as Mr. Jackson's primary attorney between 1980 and 2006, wrote the will. Mr. Jackson had rehired Mr. Branca the week before his death last Thursday. Mr. Branca didn't respond to requests for comment Monday; Mr. McClain couldn't be reached.

Unwinding Mr. Jackson's estate is likely to be a thorny challenge, given the size and complexity of both the assets and the debts involved. In all, Mr. Jackson died with around $500 million debt, but the value of his assets probably outweigh that, possibly by $200 million or more before taxes, according to people familiar with the matter.

Mr. Jackson's most valuable asset is believed to be his 50% stake in Sony/ATV Music Publishing, a joint venture with Sony Corp. That stake is collateral for a $300 million loan held by Barclays PLC. And Mr. Jackson's level of control over the venture was reduced in a 2006 refinancing. For instance, he no longer has veto power over key executive appointments, according to people familiar with the situation. Sony also has the right to buy half of Mr. Jackson's 50% stake when it chooses.

Mr. Jackson's other assets include Mijac, a publishing catalog that comprises his own musical composition that is collateral for a separate $73 million loan. And control of the master recordings of his albums, currently in the hands of Sony, is set to revert to him in five years, according to people familiar with the matter.

But Mr. Jackson last year defaulted on a $24.5 million loan backed by another major component of his portfolio, Neverland Valley Ranch. He then became a partner in a venture -- Sycamore Valley Ranch Co., LLC -- that now owns the property. It is not clear what will become of the property once the will is executed.

Apart from the wrangling over the will, funeral arrangements also remained a subject of debate among family members, with logistical and other issues contributing to apparent gridlock in planning, according to people familiar with the situation.

At a news conference Monday morning outside the family's home in Encino, Calif., Joseph Jackson was asked whether funeral arrangements had been made. "We're not ready for that yet," the elder Mr. Jackson said, repeating the words of Rev. Al Sharpton, who stood at his side.

Also on Monday, concert promoter AEG Live unveiled plans to refund the $85 million worth of tickets it sold for the 50 concerts Mr. Jackson planned to give in London starting July 13. Buyers will be given a choice between receiving a cash refund, including service fees, or a ticket as a souvenir.

A spokesman for AEG, a division of Anschutz Corp., said that any cash that remains unclaimed would go toward covering its production costs, which are estimated to be above $20 million. Profits beyond that would go to Mr. Jackson's estate, the spokesman added. It wasn't clear how much, if any, of its insurance coverage AEG is likely to collect.

N.Y. Korean Suicide Rate Skyrockets

NEW YORK -- More than 30 Koreans in New York City have committed suicide this year.

According to a Korea Times survey of the three major Korean funeral parlors in New York and New Jersey -- Jung-Ang Funeral Parlor, Je-Mi Funeral Parlor and Kim, Ki-Ho Yae Hospital -- 31 Koreans committed suicide between January and June 26th. This number indicates that an average of five Koreans in New York kill themselves each month, four times greater than the general population's average of 12 to 15 suicides a year.

The funeral directors said the number would be even higher if the survey had included more funeral homes.

Observers say the financial burdens that were fueled by the economic crisis have led some people to suffer from self-hatred and have contributed to the rapid increase in suicides.

Experts say the rate of suicide has increased particularly among married couples and the elderly. Moreover, suicides by young people -- high school and college students as well as people in their 20s and 30s -- have also recently appeared.

Experts point out that, in addition to the recession, the frequent suicides by South Korean celebrities also have an effect.

“Even though the suicide rates tend to increase during the recession, South Koreans’ suicide rate is noticeably high compared to other ethnicities,” said one of the Korean funeral directors. “Economic distress, family trouble and disappointment are the leading causes of suicide. However, we can’t ignore the ripple effect of the Korean celebrities’ suicides that have been occurring in succession.”

Gay Duke U. Official Attempts to Sell Black 5-Year-Old Son for Sex: MSM Out to Lunch.

Frank Lombard is an associate director at Duke University's Global Health Institute and a homosexual who was charged last week with the molestation of his adopted 5-year-old black son and actively trying to sell him for sex on the internet.
The 40 words above are 40 more than the Main Stream Media has said on this horrible story.

In nearly a week since Lombard was arrested, not one national broadcast or cable television news show has picked up the story. Compare this to the weeks on end of sensational coverage of the white male lacrosse players of the same university charged with rape several years ago.

At the time of this post not one television show has reported the story and only 17 newspapers in the United States featured it - a majority of which are only small local newspapers.

And most of these articles cited the American Press' report on the events,hich was as follows:

AP) WASHINGTON - A Duke University official has been arrested and charged with offering his adopted 5-year-old son for sex.

Frank Lombard, the school's associate director of the Center for Health Policy, was arrested after an Internet sting, according to the FBI's Washington field office and the city's police department.

According to an affidavit by District of Columbia Police Det. Timothy Palchak, an unnamed informant facing charges in his own child sex case led authorities to Lombard.

Authorities said that Lombard tried to persuade a person -who he did not know was a police officer -to travel to North Carolina to have sex with Lombard's child.

The detective's affidavit charges Lombard identified himself online as "perv dad for fun," and says that in an online chat with the detective, Lombard said he had sexually molested his son, whom he adopted as an infant.

The court papers say Lombard also invited the undercover detective to North Carolina to have sex with the young boy, and even suggested which hotel he should use."

In response to the AP report, which most of the newspapers used almost verbatim, Mike Adams of Townhall made the observation that "The Associate Press (AP) did not mention the fact that the five-year old offered up for molestation was black. Bringing that fact to light might be damaging to the political coalition that exists between blacks and gays. Nor did the AP mention that the adopted child is being raised by a homosexual couple. Bringing that fact to light might harm the gay adoption movement."

With this shocking lack of coverage of an even more shocking story, many are asking why this did not make the front pages and top headlines like the Duke lacrosse team scandal did. Thomas Lifson of American Thinker posited that "identity politics ... apparently trumps all sense of outrage."

FDA Weighs Pulling Nyquil off Shelves to Address Acetaminophen Overdose

The Wall Street Journal's Health Blog notes that the FDA is mulling whether to pull Nyquil off the pharmacy shelf to address the problem of acetaminophen overdose. Acetaminophen (which is called paracetamol by folks in other countries) can cause liver failure in high doses, something that the public still apparently has not grasped. The FDA "cites one study that suggested acetaminophen overdoses were associated with 56,000 emergency room visits, 26,000 hospitalizations, and 458 deaths per year in the U.S. during the 1990s."

Call me crazy, but if the problem is acetaminophen overdose, maybe the first product to take off the shelf should be Tylenol, not Nyquil. Tylenol is just straight acetaminophen, rather than a syrupy blend of various substances that's found in Nyquil.

Holiday declared in Iraq as US troops leave cities

It's a holiday, but people aren't exactly in the streets celebrating. But, finally, there's been a first major step towards getting U.S. troops out of Iraq. Our soldiers pulled out of the cities today:
Iraq declared a public holiday Tuesday to celebrate the official withdrawal of American troops from Iraqi cities and towns, emptying the streets as many people stayed home because they feared violence.

As official Iraq celebrated, the American military announced the death of four soldiers on Monday from combat operations in Baghdad, a reminder of the continuing hazards for American troops here and the vulnerability of soldiers as they wrap up operations in the field.

In the past few weeks, with the approach of the official date for withdrawal, nationalist sentiments have spread within the Iraqi government and military, with officials all but boasting publicly that Iraq is ready to handle the security situation on its own. The date of June 30 was set in an Iraqi-American security agreement that went into effect on Jan. 1, 2009.
Let's hope they are ready to handle it.

Even as this was unfolding, four more U.S. soldiers were killed in Iraq today.

One of the best pictures out of Iran

They say that one picture is worth a thousand words. Well this picture is worth that and a lot more in my opinion.

Michael Jackson fans are apparently committing suicide

It turns out that some Michael Jackson fans maybe more whacko than Jacko was, with reports that some are committing suicide.

According to the owner of a leading Michael Jackson fan site, 12 Jacko fans world wide have ended their lives, and possibly more. “It is a serious situation that these people are going through but Michael Jackson would never want this” Gary Taylor told Sky News. “He would want them to live.”

There’s even a video appeal for fans to get a grip from Jesse Jackson, who says that “This is a time when hearts are heavy. There is great pain but great cause to celebrate Michael’s life…It made Michael happy saying ‘We Are The World’. Don’t self destruct. We fall down sometimes, we get back up. That’s the right thing to do. In Michael’s name let’s live together as brothers and sisters and not die apart as fools.”

Here’s the Jesse Jackson don’t end it over Michael Jackson video:

If not for Michael Jackson, who would have ruled as King of Pop during the '80s?

As the world settles in for what is sure to be weeks if not months of second-guessing the life and death of Michael Jackson, here at Stuck in the '80s I find myself pondering a different question:

If not for Michael Jackson, his Thriller album, the landmark videos, etc. and so on ... who would have served as the King of Pop during the 1980s?
Who would have been the face of music that decade? The trendsetter? The innovator? And perhaps the one who self-destructed under the pressure of wearing the crown?

Obviously, everyone should add their own opinion below. But here are some names that come to mind right off the top of my head:

Who would have been the face of music that decade? The trendsetter? The innovator? And perhaps the one who self-destructed under the pressure of wearing the crown?

Obviously, everyone should add their own opinion below. But here are some names that come to mind right off the top of my head:

GEORGE MICHAEL: He left one best-selling group to go solo and found even more success. That sounds a lot like M.J. But aside from the obnoxious "Choose Life" neon shirts from Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go and the ripped-jeans look from his solo videos, his trendsetting accomplishments don't really stack up.

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: Sure, it's a '70s guy. (So was Michael.) But his landmark album -- Born in the USA -- was smack in the middle of the '80s. But aside from marrying Julianne Phillips, what other '80s-ness did he really do?

BONO: U2 was probably the band of the decade (depending how you define that vague label), but it just feels weird to hand all the credit over to its frontman. Plus, Bono had a mullet. (Is that a pro or a con in this argument?) In any case, I think Bono would decline the honor.

MADONNA: Maybe we should be talking about the "Queen of Pop" instead of King of Pop. A product of the Midwest (like Jackson), she sparked fashion trends, wowed audiences with her TV performances and has sold more records than anyone else on this list.

BOY GEORGE: Finally someone who can be both the king and queen of pop. Surely, Boy's look was a defining image of the decade. And like Michael, his personal life threatens to wipe out memories of the anything he recorded. But does the quality of his music hold up its end of the equation? Probably not.

Okay, okay. Now we're talking. Very eccentric personality. Musical genius. Great dancer. Won an Oscar and Grammy for Purple Rain. Did it all without any noticeable or publicized plastic surgery. Sure, his purple-infused French Revolution overcoat fashion statement didn't catch on like the single, white glove. And he had no Moonwalk (though he writhing and grinding during Computer Blue and Darling Nikki was just as fun ... and easier to replicate).

Williams sisters the ones to beat

Venus and Serena Williams are hoping to meet in a fourth Wimbledon final

Venus and Serena Williams are expected to take another step towards a repeat of last year's final with quarter-final victories at Wimbledon on Tuesday.

The American sisters have shared seven of the last nine titles and met in the final three times.

Five-time and defending champion Venus plays 11th seed Agnieszka Radwanska in the first Court One match at 1300 BST.

Two-time champion Serena plays eighth seed Victoria Azarenka second on Centre Court in arguably the match of the day.

Surprise quarter-finalist Sabine Lisicki of Germany, the world number 41, takes on world number oneDinara Safina in the opening match on Centre Court at 1300 BST.

Fourth seed Elena Dementieva plays Italy's Francesca Schiavone, the world number 43, in the second match on Court One.

Azarenka has been the biggest breakthrough star of the women's game in 2009, collecting three titles including a victory over Serena in the final in Miami in March.

If she's playing good tennis and she has a good day, it's very tough to play against her

Radwanska on Venus
The 19-year-old from Belarus was also giving Serena a tough time before having to retire in the second set of their Australian Open fourth-round match in January.

"She's obviously a good player and she's really young," said Serena. "She has nothing to lose. This is Wimbledon. You know, I feel the same way. It will be a really good match."

The 2002 and 2003 champion added: "I feel like I definitely need to step it up, play better, really start playing some great tennis or go home. And I don't want to go home, so I feel like I'm just getting more serious."

Azarenka said: "It's the quarter-finals, it's a big match. It's going to be loud in the big stadium and everything.

"I just have to be the same focused as I was all of these days and just keep playing my game, not to worry about that I'm playing Serena in the quarter-finals."

Venus has looked untroubled on her way into the last 16 and she benefited from the retirement of Ana Ivanovic in her last match.

Your thoughts on the women's draw

Poland's Radwanska, 20, won her first match against Venus three years ago but has lost the last three, including a heavy defeat in Rome earlier this year.

"She's obviously very talented," said Venus. "She plays a different style game, but is very effective at it. Apparently she likes this surface. But I'll continue with my methods."

Radwanska is not surprised to be playing the five-time champion.

"If I'm playing quarter-finals of a Grand Slam, it's either Venus, Serena or Kuzy (Kuznetsova), so I'm not surprised," she said. "I have nothing to lose. She's a great champion here and I will try my best here again.

"If she's playing good tennis and she has a good day, it's very tough to play against her. Especially the serves, you know, she's hitting hard."

Lisicki lost to Safina in the first round of last year's Australian Open but the 19-year-old German has come on in leaps and bounds since then, taking her first title in Charleston recently and rising to 41 in the world.

"For me it's just one match at a time," she said. "I was very happy to have beaten Svetlana. I just fought for that match. I was very happy with the result.

"Getting into the second week, I just thought, you know, I have nothing to lose now. I'm playing my best tennis so far and I'm very happy, and I think I can still get much better.

"You know, I'm looking forward to the next matches."

Dementieva, a semi-finalist last year, has a 4-4 record against 29-year-old Schiavone and knows what to expect.

"I know Francesca very well," said the Russian. "I used to play junior competition with her. I think it will be tough match.

"She has a good grass-court game, she has a good slice, she has some tricky shots with her forehand, and she's aggressive with her serve."

Ties that bind: Comoros and France

Many of the passengers on board a Yemenia Air plane that crashed on its way to the Comoros Islands were French - reflecting deep historical ties between the two nations.

More than most African nations, Comoros has struggled to establish a stable government since independence from its former colonial power, France.

French forces took over the Indian Ocean island-nation in 1886 and made it a fully fledged colony 26 years later.

The country was the scene of battles during World War II, when British forces ousted the government, which was loyal to the France's Nazi-backed Vichy administration.

1886 - 1975 France rules islands as protectorate and colony
1974 Mayotte votes to remain French
1975 Three islands become independent, but their government overthrown
1975 - 1995 French mercenary Bob Denard organises coups, runs presidential guards
2009 Mayotte islanders vote to deepen ties with France

Obituary: Bob Denard
The British handed the islands to Charles de Gaulle's Free French Forces.

Over the next three decades, the islands gradually loosened ties with Paris, becoming an overseas territory before declaring independence in 1975.

But the separation from France was not smooth.

One of the islands, Mayotte, did not join the other three main islands in embracing independence.

Its 200,000 people - roughly a quarter of the Comoran population - voted to stay a part of France in 1975 as an "overseas collectivity".

Earlier this year they voted in a referendum to fully integrate with France.

The vote caused huge tensions within the island grouping - with one Comoran official describing it as a declaration of war.

Mercenary intervention

The three main islands making up the Union of the Comoros - Anjouan, Moheli and Grande Comore - believe Mayotte should be part of their country.

But the people of Mayotte believe they have powerful reasons for remaining a part of France.

Firstly, Mayotte's economy hugely outperforms its near neighbours.

And secondly, Mayotte has avoided the recent history of coups and instability that have blighted the other islands.

Bob Denard was eventually arrested and convicted of various crimes
Since independence, Comoros has experienced about 20 coups.

Its first post-colonial government was deposed just a month after it declared independence.

And a Frenchman was at the centre of the drama.

Colonel Bob Denard, who became a pivotal figure in Comoran politics, led a group of mercenaries in overthrowing the government.

Over the next two decades, he is suspected of orchestrating another three coups in Comoros. He was also tried, and cleared, of taking part in the assassination of a Comoran president.

He served as head of the presidential guards and lived on the islands for a decade - but ironically Denard's final coup attempt, in 1995, was thwarted by troops from France.

Since then, Comoros, excluding Mayotte, has largely drifted away from France's political sphere of influence.

There are still some indelible links between the nations.

A significant Comoran diaspora lives in France - as many as 200,000 according to France's ministry of foreign affairs.

And French, alongside Arabic, remains an official language of the predominantly Muslim islands - although even on Mayotte, only an estimated 50% of the population are able to read or write in French.

But as the influence of the old colonial power fades, stability still remains out of reach.

The islands remain largely impoverished and prone to political infighting.